Derek Webb Isn't Going to Take It Anymore
By Alyce Gilligan
October 20, 2009
You did a lot of interesting marketing for Stockholm Syndrome, probably some of the most unique that we’ve seen. Where did you get those ideas?
We weren’t expecting the trouble that we ran into with the label, and when it happened, we just tried to kind of look around and figure out what the resources we had were, where our direct conduits were to the tribe, and how we could speak directly to them in a way that was really efficient. So things like Twitter wound up being kind of a no-brainer, and we really wouldn’t have been able to do it without it. Kind of like a metaphor for my whole career—the whole thing, there was no master plan behind it, [but] by the time we were done, it wound up being fairly well-orchestrated.
Throughout the album, there is a theme of confronting the harmful ideologies of the Church toward homosexuality, particularly with “What Matters More” and “Freddie Please.” At what point did you first start to reevaluate the way your faith and the gay community relate, and decided it was something you wanted to use your music for?
I’ve said this a bunch of times, but I knew for years that I would end up making this record. Because I knew there would be a day beyond which I wouldn’t be able to apologize to my friends, or try to put framework around my community, the Church and the way that they treated the people in my friends’ community. A lot of my friends can’t help but absorb the judgment of the Church in terms of that particular issue, and I just wanted to stand with them on that side of the line and try to absorb some of that judgment with them. Either we’re not articulating our theology well, or we have bad theology. One way or the other, it needs addressing.
At what point did you feel compelled to leave the swearing in “What Matters More,” though you knew to some extent that it wouldn’t hit home with your label and all audiences?My whole career is based on trusting my instincts. If I don’t have that, I don’t have anything. That has always brought me to the right places. I don’t intentionally make music for anybody. I am simply looking at the world and telling you what I see, and that’s it. Maybe it’s gonna alienate everybody. That’s just beyond my concern. It’s the way I wrote it, it’s exactly what I meant to say, I stand by the words of it, and I can explain in great detail all of the mechanics of my mind, of how I got there and why I thought that particular word was important and justified, why it was effective. I don’t want to be careful to make my decisions based on my being fearful of men. I’m not stupid. I’ve been in the business of Christian music, or whatever you call this for a lot of years, for 17 years or so. But I couldn’t think of one good reason to change it. I couldn’t think of one reason that wasn’t me being reactive and fearful.
Part of your appeal is that people know they’re going to get good music with challenging lyrics that doesn’t fit into any one box. With Stockholm Syndrome, that’s proven true with the sound as well. It’s changed and progressed from a folk sound to a more synthetic vibe. Can you explain how your sound has changed and if you’ll ever go back to a more acoustic feel?
The one consistent thing for me, the thing that hooked me early on, was this posture or approach of these folk musicians—the protest movement of the '60s, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan—the people who were really representing the stories of the people, telling the unfiltered stories of what’s happening in culture. They put a voice on the issues of the day. That’s the thread that I follow. Where I have picked up the thread again over the last 10 years or so is hip-hop. Hip-hop is contemporary folk music. That is one of the only genres that really seems to be fearless in terms of the way it speaks on behalf of the people. That style and the sound of the music started to just kind of infect me a little bit. All of that, coupled with the fact that I’m just completely sick of playing the acoustic guitar.
You’ve helped redefine the artistic community in terms of the way they market and sell music with Square Peg Alliance and Noise Trade. What are your thoughts regarding free music and downloading music and the ways that artists get their work out there?
Good artists should be applying their creativity to both the making and the distributing of their music these days. I have found a few things over the years. One is the inevitability that all things digital are now or will be free. You can’t stop it. The problem is that the streams of revenue for music have been what they are for so long that people have had a really hard time unplugging from the matrix of that idea of, “But I sell round pieces of plastic for $10 a piece, that’s how I make all my money. If I’m not selling round pieces of plastic, what am I doing?” Your record is your best marketing tool.